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By Rhonda Spivak

The Manitoba-Israel Shared Values Roundtable (MISVR), led by  Manitoba Minister of Water Stewardship Christine Melnick will be partnering with the Tel-Aviv foundation and the Jewish National Fund  in order to build a childrens  playground in the challenged Ajami neighborhood in Jaffa, Israel.

The project was announced at a special reception attended here by the Mayor of Tel-Aviv, Ron Huldai, in the presence of over 200 invited  guests  from a variety of  ethnic backgrounds.
The park , which will cost $200,000 U.S., is envisioned to be a place where Jewish, Muslim and Christian children, who live in low income neighbourhoods of Jaffa can play side-by-side in a peaceful atmosphere. It will be both environmentally friendly and fully accessible. 
"So far, about 130,000 Canadian dollars has been raised for this park project, and we are in the process of raising the remainder," said Melnick, who hopes to inaugurate the park when she is next in Israel in January 2010 for the Second  Annual  Manitoba-Israel Water Conference.
Mayor Huldai told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that the idea of the park is to promote peaceful co-existence between the residents of Jaffa, and nurture a sense of shared community.  The project is being launched as part of the centennial celebrations this year of the city of Tel-Aviv/Jaffa.
There are about 60,000 residents of  Jaffa, about 40,000 Jews and 20,000 Arabs." Over the last 11 years since I have been Mayor of Tel-Aviv/Jaffa, I have invested over one billion shekels, just in Jaffa alone, for improvements to the sewage system, for electricity, as well as  kindergartens,  schools and parks,"said Huldai.
The crowded mixed Arab-Jewish neighborhood of Ajami, located between the Jaffa port and Bat Yam, was the first Jaffa neighborhood built outside the Old City walls.
Melnick told the crowd that the purpose of  the MISVR is to strengthen the  relationship between Manitobans and Israelis, who value democracy, freedom of speech, public health care and education.
Melnick noted that the the Jewish National Fund, The Canadian Friends of Hebrew University, B'nai Brith Winnipeg ,India School of Dance, Music and Theatre Faith Temple and a devoted group of volunteers, had all participated in  raising  money  towards the park project.
The park, to be entitled Playground for Peace  was designed by Moria-Sekely Landscape Architecture  in partnership  with the  JNF and Melnick said  the plan of the park will encourage  a lot of  interactive group play.

Rachel Manelson of the Tel-Aviv  Foundation, who also flew here for the event, said that the mandate of the foundation is to enhance the quality of  life of residents of  Tel-Aviv by investing in education, kindergartens, schools, and resource centers.
"The project that the Roundtable [ MISVR] chose was specifically designed to promote  cultural co-existence between all the residents of Ajami and Jaffa generally," Manelson said.
Following the announcement of the park project, Israeli singer Eytan entertained the audience with Israeli music, as members of the crowd  from all different  ethnic groups began dancing horahs, led by an energetic Mayor Huldai. The spirited dancing continued until most members of the audience, including Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, were  participating.
Earlier the same day, Huldai met with the new N.D.P Premier of Manitoba, Greg Selinger, during what was Selinger’s first day in office, after taking over from  former Premier Gary Doer, who  has gone on to become Canada’s Ambassador to Washington.
Former Winnipeger Jackie Simkin, now living in Florida, who is a donor to the park project and flew here to support the event said, "The evening was terrific and  it was incredible to see so many people of different backgrounds participating in a celebration of Israel."
The event, which was held at the Manitoban-Indian Cultural Centre included a dance performance by the India School of  Dance.

This article has appeared in the Canadian Jewish News                                          

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.